When Does a Joke Go Too Far?

Are we getting too soft or too hard on today’s humor? This editorial the Nostalgia Critic asks the question, when does a joke go too far?

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About Doug Walker

Creator of 5 Second Movies, Nostalgia Critic, Bum Reviews and more.


  1. I tweeted this to Raffi, he’ll like it.

  2. Ok, Doug, you REALLY NEED to use another player. THE BUFFERING IS A NIGHTMARE.
    Basically, it charges 5 scs, then stops. You play the 5scs, you stop, and ONLY THEN does it charge 5 more seconds. BEFORE STOPPING AGAIN. And so on and so forth.

    The results ? The video is 15 minutes long, but it actually took me a WHOLE HOUR to see it from start to finish (given I’m watching other stuffs in parallel, answering messages, etc).

    Please consider doing something about it.

  3. I find it hilarious how under this video a joke using the n-word god censored.Either there is some stupid automated filter,or the mods have no clue.

  4. Thank you so much for making this, Doug. With all of the vitrol being spewed on the internet now-a-days, I really needed this.

    I grew up watching stand up comedy since I was a little girl.It was a way me and my parents bonded. Hell my mom went into labor with me about an hour after watching the latest George Carlin special. I wouldn’t even interrupt comedy as a baby.

    Something I’ve been having difficulty with most recently is the resurging feminists movements and the pressures those activists put on women today. The way those groups expect other women to act in accordance to their expectations of us can be just as restricing (although I’d argue even more so) than the “patriarcal” system they fight against. They always say they’re fighting for my voice, but I never had a problem doing that for myself. They like to get offended by comedians for me, when I’m just laughing my ass off on the couch. It feels so unfair to see the good that comedy can do being censored and attacked by people who think they know what’s best for me better than I do.

    Although, I’ll admit. I’m glad comedians today are going through the challenge right now. It’s scary, and hard as hell, but hopefully the comedians that make it to the other side will be stronger and even funnier for it after whethering the storm of trolls and SJW’s.

    Keep on fighting comedians.

  5. I don’t want to be presumptuous to think I can say much more than the editorial already did with just a few paragraphs, but I think, in general, the worst kind of jokes are those that are neither too inoffensive, or completely offensive, but are “just offensive enough”. What I mean is, if you’re, say, making jokes about gay people, if you *just* target the gay people without hitting anyone else, you’re probably not just doing comedy. If you want to be offensive and politically incorrect, you should offend EVERYONE. People don’t mind being laughed at, as long as they’re not being alone. That’s the truth. I think the best comedy exploits that, and usually I feel I’m watching a good comedian when I feel I might become the target at any time. If the comedy feels too comfortable, that’s usually a sign of trouble.

  6. There is and shouldn’t be ANY bounds to humor. I’m okay even with very dark humor as it has its place. Dark humor helps cope with certain things as well.
    I hate people who say “you can’t say that” to a comedian. If we get to the point where something is “too far” as this will destroy comedy long term.

  7. I’m still doubtful about that Seinfeld thing. It seems way more likely that he bombed and decided to blame offense as the reason why. I mean this is the guy that made Bee Movie

  8. lacking_psilosynine

    a joke goes too far when it 1) perpetuates harmful stereotypes, prejudices, or beliefs against a group of people who already are systemically treated like shit by multiple levels of society and 2) is not delivered (usually as poking fun at oneself) by a member of aforementioned group of people.


    my response to anti-sjws saying “learn to take a joke” is “learn to make one that doesn’t suck”. suffering may be a source of comedy, but if your joke is predicated on perpetuating harmful, dehumanizing stereotypes, then you’re not a very original comic. get some new material. people who say “political correctness will ruin comedy” are just buttmad because they lack the creative ability to make a joke without perpetuating tired stereotypes and making others feel lesser, and they are people who need to shut their mouths and let actual talented people take over.

    • lacking_psilosynine

      oh, relevant to ~offensive (that’s not even the issue; it’s about promoting/spreading ideas that seriously hurt people outside the comedy club…or web page, as it were) comedy, i nearly forgot a quote from a comic i very much like: “when a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.” – louis c.k.

      • Agreed. Honestly, if you can’t make a joke without it being harmful to someone that society treats like shit, you’re not a good comedian since you’re only trying to make a certain group of people (aka the one’s society is in favor of) laugh instead of everyone.

  9. When you get a loading error with this thumbnail, it is kinda funny to look at

  10. Most offensive jokes are about people who are oppressed (Gay, People of Color, disabled, transgendered, women) and they’re being told by privileged people usually in a mean-spirited way. Which is why they’re deemed as offensive. I don’t think people should get all angry about the jokes, just simply say, “I don’t get it.” So they can explain in detail why they’re such an asshole.

  11. 5:45 i think it is what also happened to Brock in Pokemon. He suddenly decided to leave because the producers thought it was offensive to have one of the only few black guys in the series always have his eyes closed. Then suddenly came back when people asked him to because he didn’t offend anybody.

    • I’m not sure Brock really counts as “black” – he always struck me as “tanned” more than anything. I’ll just say he’s “ambiguously brown” and leave it at that.

      Regarding Speedy, I think one of the arguments for bringing him back to the Looney Tunes lineup was that he was always depicted as a heroic character who always won out against the villains (mostly the hapless Sylvester, but sometimes others – including, oddly enough, Daffy Duck). His cousin Slowpoke Rodriguez, however…

  12. Hey, Doug, can you do an editorial for Prometheus? Like asking the big question if it is good, decent or bad. Heck, please bring your own opinion on what you believe is happening in the movie and what it all means. I keep hearing from others about how confusing and boring it is. But, for me, I found the film to have a lot of things that interests me. Just want to hear your thoughts, you rock!

  13. I suppose because as life can be cruel it also can be very ironic. As bleak as a situation is there’s always that unfitting element contrasting with a bad situation. This also makes me feel more tired with bleak and dark stories since when there’s not even a grain of levity it’s just pandering.

    As much as the human mind wants control and everything functioning and working in a way, there are a lot of unfitting, chaotic and even strangely optimistic things also.

  14. Personally, my rule about offensive jokes is if you’re making jokes about your own race or your own gender or whatever, it’s okay. So I’ll usually laugh about jokes about women, hispanics, and black people (especially if they’re about people that ARE those things) but jokes about anybody else, I try not to laugh at. I actually don’t watch most comedians (or South Park-like shows) because I know that I am the type to get offended a good chunk of the time. The most offensive show I watch is Two Broke Girls and even sometimes I pearl-clutch watching that show! Also, I’m okay with jokes about bad people like Nazi’s or whatever. But if comedy is based on pain, why is Seinfeld so funny?

    Also, I wonder if the cookie sales still go to the Ronald McDonald charity… Hmm…

    I might check out ChaosD1.

  15. You’re right about comedy being derived from some sort of misery, but I think another important aspect of comedy, especially rude humor, is that it should punch up not down. What good is there at beating down on an already downtrodden opponent. There’s no sport in it and the only real accomplishment of it is establishing how much of an asshole the comedian is. George Carlin made fun of EVERYONE. But he also understood the world better than most, and while he cracked a few jokes at groups we would consider disenfranchised, he never enforced the negativity that those groups dealt w/ on a regular basis. More often than not the people he was hardest on were the powerful, the ones w/ power and influence who needed to be taken down a few pegs from time to time. Some of these newer shock comedians could learn a thing or two from him (looking at you Daniel Tosh and Sarah Silverman).

    The comedian should also ask themselves this question: who is this joke at the expense of [Insert Group Here] for? If you’re telling a joke about black people that’s only for white people to laugh at then it’s probably an offensive joke. There are a lot of comedians that use comedy as an excuse to say mean and/or offensive things. Granted I do think we can get a little too PC, but I’m cautious when admitting this fact solely because there are genuine assholes who will use this fact to defend their just being assholes. Bigotry can’t be as upfront as it once was so now it hides itself behind the masks of comedy, politics, etc. Folks now have to sift through our media w/ a fine toothed comb. This can sometimes have people jumping at shadows, but other times it does catch legitimately troublesome matters.

    Also, Doug, I hope Stone and Parker paid you handsomely for that quality fellatio you performed. Seriously top notch stuff. And you should also tread carefully. While you make good points, as a white male you’re not exactly in a position to tell other groups of people what they should and should not be okay w/ comedians saying. As I said, responding “it was just a joke” is not a good way to argue in defense of someone accused of insensitivity as a lot of assholes will raise that argument like a banner. Not every person criticizing folks like Poehler, Silverman, etc are calling them racist or equating them to lunatics like the Westboro Baptist Church, but are rather charging them w/ being more responsible w/ their acts. Are you punching up or down? Who is the joke your telling intended to amuse?

  16. Grate Oracle Lewot

    I’d like to give my two cents on the “misery” debate.

    On the one hand, it does seem like Doug is stretching things a bit to make all humor fit his definition. “Puns are a mockery of language”–true, but is the language feeling miserable? “Somebody’s pride is being challenged”–whose? English teachers? Grammar Nazis? Even if that’s the case, they didn’t invent the language, so they aren’t responsible for its oddities–and no one person did invent the language, so nobody is. Furthermore, take self-deprecating humor: someone is being insulted, but because they’re the one doing it, they’re probably not miserable about it. So there can be, I think, forms of “victimless humor,” but on the other hand a lot of humor IS based on suffering.

    But somebody else commented that British humor is very “zany,” and this touches on my next point: whatever a joke is based on, I think that what actually makes it funny (or not) is how surprising or unexpected the punchline is. After all, if you’ve already heard a joke, then it’s not really funny the second time, right? We all know this, but the problem is that shows like Family Guy take this idea and just try to keep surprising the audience by being more and more offensive, when they don’t realize that because they’ve marked themselves as a shock value show, nobody is actually surprised at them doing shocking things anymore. Imagine if one of their jokes were done on, say, Dora the Explorer. Same joke, but it’s suddenly a lot more surprising because of the surrounding context, and therefore potentially funnier. Of course I may be stretching things to conform to my “surprise” view as Doug is for his “misery” one.

    Another thing is, while I agree with Duckman, I also think that sometimes you can create better humor by imposing more limitations on yourself. These don’t necessarily have to be based on political correctness, but, simply put, a lot of shows aimed at kids are currently much funnier than Family Guy, and because they aren’t allowed to do shock value and offensive stuff, they have to get much more creative to come up with good jokes. Now that doesn’t mean that everyone should write for kids’ shows, or everyone should do puns or self-deprecating humor, because if everyone does the same thing then it gets old and is no longer surprising. Diversity is the other key.

    • I just wanted to comment if Doug just said “one of the main sources of humor is misery” or “I find the source of the humor I do and think about in comedy” it would be pretty hard to argue with him. It is when he says ALL comedy is misery that it starts to strain credibility and exceptions and counter arguments start to pop up.

      Also, it is possible that comedy covers more than one thing and that we find some things funny because of misery, others funny from zannyness and so on (I’d tend to look for the one explanation to but as you point out it can strain things).

  17. I’m offended! I demand that the Nostalgia Critic apologize!!!

  18. In Dutch we have a saying that somewhat translates to “look at who the joke comes from”.
    You shouldn’t feel offended when a respected comedian makes a slip-up or mistake.
    You should however feel offended when an idiot or racist makes racist jokes, because the basic intent is to offend.

  19. thatgirlinthewheelchair

    Great video as always, Doug, however, I DO have one counterpoint…This is probably the fourth or fifth video where you’ve maintained that all comedy derives from pain. And while I agree that MOST comedy does…How does that explain movies like Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Seeing a fully grown man prance around while another man claps coconuts together has me cracking up every time. But it has nothing to do with pain or offense? Or look at all of the jokes that you and Rob laugh at when watching Gravity Falls. A lot of them don’t derive from an offensive root. They’re just…silly! So I guess that’s my question…how does pure and utter silliness fit into the notion that comedy has to derive from pain?

  20. Wow, Walker. Thank you so much for making this. This really sums up so much about what I’ve been noticing about comedy and social justice- two concepts I claim to support and love. I’ve had difficulties with people from both the hyper offensive and the hyper offend-able and I frankly don’t know who I find worse. I know people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum who sincerely believe that comedy must become completely inoffensive. The right doesn’t want to hear swearing or satire of religion. The left doesn’t want to hear anything that is anything but perfectly PC. To both I say that being offended is a gift. I learned more from something I initially found offensive than from a textbook. I maintain that things we find offensive seem as such because they challenge us and force us out of our comfort zones and to start considering new ideas. This video articulates that point far better than I ever could. I’m sharing this.

  21. wow Nepsotic acts so much like someone who would be a MRA and pro gamergate that i bet he would literally go up to a woman and say “milady, its actually about ethics in journalism”

  22. I think the big thing is comedy should mock the things people do and experience, but not those things that define people.
    You can make a ton of comedy on the habits of gay people, awkward situations about gay bars, and yet not be hateful towards gays. South Park usually does this, though I feel they crossed the line on some of their religion episodes.
    Also commonly, anger driven humor will define a group in false, highly negative ways, which is only funny to people who share the same anger as the person telling the joke. For example, most people laugh about Jewish moms, but not at jokes about penny-pinching Jewish people.

  23. Jonathan Gillispie

    Speaking as a libertarian minarchist, political correctness is just purely a tool to suppress freedom of speech. It needs to be seriously reigned in! On note of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, I have mixed feelings for. On one hand they can be incredibly funny and do challenge the power structure; on the other hand they liked defending the power structure if it was D in the White House like Barack Obama who treats the constitution like toilet paper. Then John Oliver is a piece of shit. I’m sure he has some funny stuff, but he helped advance Net Neutrality which is a blatant power grab by this federal govt in order to regulate free speech and internet content. This is no different from what was practiced in the Soviet Union and China to this day.

    • No, net neutrality is pretty much the only thing preventing big business from getting its grubby hands around the internet’s throat to try and squeeze money out of internet users. And really, Obama treats the Constitution like toilet paper? There’s more crap in that statement than there is in 20 horse stables that haven’t been cleaned for a month.

      • Jonathan Gillispie

        Well let’s see; violates the 4th amendment with massive NSA surveillance (worse than Bush even), makes Congress irrelevant by making laws via executive order from giving away amnesty to illegal immigrants violating laws on the books, giving the EPA much more power than it should have to regulate carbon emissions that supposedly cause climate change (which the claims to say the least are incredibly suspicious). Goes to war in Libya without Congressional approval let alone a declaration of war leaving the country in total chaos since Gaddafi was ousted from power and nearly did the same thing with Syria which only stopped due to overwhelming opposition from the public both Republicans and Democrats. Passes a massive piece of legislation that supposedly fixes healthcare (as a sidenote, US healthcare contrary to perception is anything but free market; more accurately corporatist which is big business and big govt colluding together). And the IRS suppressing speech of political foes of this administration. That screams Richard Nixon times 10. And many other things I don’t have the time list in this comment. (twitter.com/superfanboy108) And about Net neutrality… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Z_nBhfpmk4&index=7&list=WL

  24. Surprised how well you made this editorial. This is one of my favorites.

    But have to say I find it abit coincidence that you made this video a few weeks after Bill Maher made a new rule: Learning how to take a joke. Also talking about similar talking points & didnt reference him.

  25. I’ve thought for a while that the key to politically-incorrect humor is to outweigh offensiveness with humor. One thing to be noted is that a politically incorrect joke shouldn’t be stretched out too much, otherwise its humor starts to fade away and its offensiveness starts to sink in. Take for example, Heil Honey I’m Home, a 50’s style sitcom about Adolf Hitler that was canceled after only one episode. It’s not a terribly offensive idea and would have made for a great five minute sketch, however, making an entire show, let alone one half-hour episode, based on this premise really pushed the joke beyond its humor and the offensiveness started to kick in. So while it was pretty clear by no means were the producers neo-Nazis, the humor didn’t outweigh the offensiveness so it deserved every right to be criticized and canceled.

  26. Great Video, agree with pretty much everything you said.

  27. Once again, glad to find some common sense in this absurd world that internet has become. Thank you for these editorials NC, please keep them coming!
    I think some people should just grow the f* up and confront life with a little more humor, the good humor is there to make us see things with a different view, not to take it personal and get us mad…

  28. Can you please do a Nostalgia Critic review on Freddie As F.R.O.7?

  29. “I am offended” is just whining.

  30. I know comment has been made, but I feel it’s important to point out that everyone jumped on Family Guy to point out how “offensive” it was in representing a girl with downs syndrome, but they did this without watching the episode or understanding the context. Not only did Family Guy represent the girl as a capable & rounded person BUT they also pointed out that not all disabled people are nice people. As the older brother of an Autistic young man, I am well aware that people with disabilities can be downright nasty, ugly people just like everyone else. Assuming all autistic children have special abilities, don’t lie or are all good people is offensive in it’s own right.

    As for “nothing is sacred as long as it’s a joke”, that easier said than done. Whether the person saying the joke genuinely believes the statement or intends for it to have negative repercussions, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t do genuine harm. People have & will take their lives over jokes because whether the jokes were deliberately intended to do harm… if they’re not thought through they will. People shouting at a fat person in the street to impress their friends… how do they know that fat person isn’t on his last straw and stocking up on his gun collection?

    As for freedom of speech, that is something that was hard fought for and I believe was always given on the basis that humanity had developed the brain to use it wisely. As the right to bare arms has proven, some rights are still a little far out for humanity to deserve. Unless of course people think that the way to make sure no one is wounded is offend everyone?

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